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No tests? (06/12/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

In a page one story today, Sarah Squires reports on the news that the state’s public school teachers will not be required to pass a test to teach in our schools. Up until now, prospective teachers had to pass a basic skills test in order to become licensed.

Apparently, a new version of the test was unveiled, and a full quarter of those who took it couldn’t pass it. So, until another test is written, untested teachers will be granted a temporary license and be able to teach in public schools.

In addition, Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has determined that high school students will no longer be required to pass tests in order to graduate.

I would think that most people in Minnesota would be upset by these two developments. I am. I can’t understand how we can, by the Legislature’s own declaration, hope to educate the “world’s best workforce” if we don’t have any idea of how much our teachers know, and how well they have related that information to their students.

It would seem that when the Department of Education formulates a new test to determine if our would-be teachers have mastered the basic skills needed to teach, or if high school seniors are ready to graduate, that new test would be thoroughly evaluated to see if it indeed measures what it intends to measure. It is my understanding that there are people who are paid well to formulate tests.

However, we now have two very high-stakes tests that teachers and high schoolers are unable to pass in sufficient numbers. Twenty-five percent of prospective and current teachers could not pass the basic skills test. The graduation tests have similar fail rates.

The state has declared that the tests must be simply too hard, or not testing what they are supposed to test. One has to wonder if that is the case, or if the opposite is true: the test is perfectly valid, but the test takers do not have the knowledge to pass them.

There is something suspect about test after test coming from the Department of Education that are judged to be too difficult. Maybe the teacher training and K-12 education we are delivering is too undemanding. Perhaps rather than training the “world’s best workforce,” we should be striving for the “world’s best educated” — for both teachers and their students.

Twelfth Night

I’m counting the days until the opening of the tenth season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Let me tell you why.

Last night I went to a rehearsal of Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. This version is laugh-out-loud good. The plot is full of twists and turns, and is built around mistaken identity.

Viola and Sebastian, young twins, are on a ship. A huge storm comes up, everyone is thrown into the sea. Viola is swept up on shore, where she is tended to by a ship’s captain. She assumes her twin brother has drowned.

In the city where she lands, there is a beautiful gentlewoman named Olivia, the captain tells her, who is loved and pined for by a nobleman, Orsino. Viola would like to secure a position in Olivia’s home, but Olivia is in mourning for her brother and is not talking to anyone. Viola, with not a penny to her name, decides to disguise herself as a man and seek a job with Orsino.

Orsino is in love with Olivia. She will have nothing to do with him. Viola, disguised, who has a job as Orsino’s page, falls madly in love with him. Orsino sends Viola, who has adopted the name Cesario, to plead his case with Olivia. Olivia, unaware that the handsome youth visiting her is really a woman, falls in love with Viola/Cesario.

As is usually the case in Shakespeare, the cast is wonderfully plumped up with over-the-top comedic characters. In this case, we find Olivia’s fool, Feste, her maidservant Maria (in love with Feste), her uncle, Sir Toby Belch (who lives up to his name as a real rounder), and his drunken friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who fancies himself a suitor of Olivia. They gang up to pull a hilarious prank on Olivia’s steward, the priggish Malvolio.

Viola must try to extricate herself from the problem of her own creation: a woman has fallen in love with her, and the man she loves thinks she is a man, too.

Ta-da! Just in the nick of time, Viola’s twin, Sebastian, shows up. He did not die in the shipwreck, and comes to the city where Viola is living. Whereas Viola has been annoying Olivia by evading her advances, when Sebastian runs into Olivia and she declares she wants to marry him — right now! — thinking he is Cesario, he says, “Sure!”

There is a lot of funny business of mistaken identity with the twins, Sebastian and Viola, but in the end, well, all’s well that ends well. Olivia and Sebastian marry and live happily ever after. Orsino, realizing that the young man he has grown very fond of is actually a woman who loves him, falls in love with Viola and they marry. Maria and Feste also marry. Happy ending for everyone except Sir Toby, Sir Andrew (but they buy their happiness by the bottle), and the steward, Malvolio.

You really don’t have to know much about Shakespeare, or even stage plays, to laugh your way through Twelfth Night. This company of actors make the Elizabethan language very easy to understand.

An unexpected extra for the new GRSF attendee is the music that accompanies the plays. This play is set around Christmastime, and some of the music and songs are familiar to us all. Other songs are composed especially for this production, and are brilliant. Twelfth Night isn’t what you would call a “musical comedy,” but it has plenty of music and comedy to satisfy those who love that genre.

Tickets are on sale now for both Twelfth Night and Henry V, a history play with lots of war and intrigue. It is shaping up to be a great season for GRSF. Now that they’ve proven themselves by attracting huge audiences for ten years, do you think it might be time you gave it a try? I guarantee you will get hooked. 


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